At present, in my critical thinking class, we’ve been discussing rhetoric and what the book refers to as psychological fallacies. After discussing a number of the informal fallacies a student queried “so, are these fallacies simply automatic psychological distortions that are somehow caused by the brain, or are people intentionally trying to deceive their audience when these fallacies are committed?” Given that I generally find that my students are solipsists, or at least atomistic individualists, I was pleased by this question as it indicated the student was thinking about audience or others. I responded that there is no black and white answer to this question, and, as I have argued here, often these distortions are more the result of our passionate attachments than the result of a malicious desire to achieve. I did, however, try to come up with some examples, pointing to the outrage machines on the news (Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Al Franken, Kieth Olbermann) who perhaps intentionally employ certain fallacies to the advantage of their ideology (particularly the ever favorite argument from outrage, where the outrage has little or nothing to do with the claim). Casting about for another example I also brought up the “Creation Evidence Museum” here in Texas (google it, I won’t link to it), where there is a dinosaur footprint with a human footprint inside of it. “Certainly this”, I mused, “was an example of an intentional deception on the part of the proprietors of the museum. And what would motivate such people to fabricate evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time? Perhaps the belief that their creation story must be literally true regardless.” Immediately two students piped up: “But the Bible mentions ‘behemoths’!!!” (Google “are dinosaurs in the Bible” and hit the second link, it has some marvelous cartoon drawings). I asked how they knew that “behemoth” refers to dinosaurs rather than elephants, whales, or giant squid. They seemed nonplussed. Such, I suppose, is the power of some ignorant, yet “well meaning”, priests who would foster a sense of misology among their lay and strive to keep them in a state of ignorant denial. The worst part is that I actually feel guilty, as if there is something wrong in actively advocating evolutionary theory in biology… As if there is actually a legitimate controversy here. It is the same sort of guilt I sometimes feel when anthropomorphic global warming issues come up… As if you’re supposed to give credence to those who treat it merely as a natural cycle.
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